The following edited transcript contains excerpts from a telephone interview of Daryl (or Darryl) Adonis Thompson, the son of Eli “Lucky” Thompson, by Noal Cohen, on February 11, 2008. Daryl Thompson was the middle child of Lucky Thompson and an accomplished guitarist and jewelry maker. He died in 2014.
NC: Did you know your grandparents?
NC: Could you tell me what their names were and where they were born?
DT: My father’s father, his name was Levi Thompson and he was born in Columbia, South Carolina. Nobody could pronounce Levi so they changed his name to Eli. And that’s why my father was Eli Junior. But his real name was Levi. My grandmother who died very young, like when my father was maybe 6 or so, was Azalee Dawkins. I’m not sure how to spell it. And I’m not really sure where she was born.
NC: I’d like to get Lucky Thompson’s children straightened out. You were born when?
DT: I’m born December 22, 1955.
NC: Where were you born?
DT: New York.
NC: New York City?
NC: Do you have siblings?
DT: I have a brother who has passed away. He was born on September 25, 1960, in Paris. His name’s Kim.
NC: Were you known as Bo-bi?
DT: Yeah. They called me Booby (sp.?). That just means little boy in Swedish.
NC: Was there a sister?
DT: Yes, my sister’s name is Jade and she was born in 1945, in Harlem.
NC: Your mother was Thelma?
DT: That’s correct.
NC: And her maiden name was Lowe, L-O-W-E, is that correct?
DT: She was a singer as well and on some of the records they call [her] Thelma Love. But it’s just a misspelling of, you know, the w to v, that’s all.
NC: But she was not Thelma Carpenter.
NC: When did your mother pass away?
DT: It would have to be around the same time as John Kennedy.
DT: Somewhere around there, yeah. Maybe ‘62. I’m not really certain because I was quite young.
NC: Do you know what she died of?
DT: Cerebral hemorrhage. She was 39. I believe she was born in 1923.
NC: Did your father ever remarry?
NC: And you are a guitarist. You recorded with or played with Sam Rivers.
DT: I recorded with Sam Rivers, played with Eddie Harris.
NC: Do you still play?
NC: And you live in Georgia?
NC: Do you do only music or do you do something else?
DT: I’m a wire artist as well. I make jewelry from wire.
NC: So your father had 3 children to take care of by himself?
DT: Two of us. My younger brother, who died in 1977, and myself. He took care of us for 6 years. We lived at the Schuyler Hotel which was on 45th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It’s no longer there. It was torn down to make a parking lot or something.
NC: And then what happened?
DT: In ’68 we moved to Switzerland and he put my brother and myself in a school called Lycée Jacquard. It was a private school.
NC: Did your father own property in Michigan?
DT: At one time he owned a farm in Michigan, yeah.
NC: Did he own it for a long time?
NC: What happened after you were put in the private school?
DT: In 1971 we returned to the States – actually it was 1970 we returned to the States with my brother and we lived with my grandfather, my father’s father, in Detroit for about 6 months. My brother got ill and we returned to Switzerland. There was some problem with his legs. He couldn’t walk so my grandfather at the time was about 70 years old and he couldn’t take care of us, so we went back to Lausanne, which is about 60 kilometers from Geneva. We stayed there for a few months. My Father had a girlfriend at the time and she was pregnant with a child and then things got kind of weird.
NC: Was the child a boy or a girl?
DT: A boy born in 1970.
NC: But he never married the child’s mother.
NC: Then things got weird…
DT: Yeah, they had their problems and they broke up, so we moved back to the States. We stayed in Harlem for about a week with a friend of my father’s and then he decided to leave and go to Colorado.
NC: Your father did, or the friend did?
DT: My Father. He decided to move to Colorado. He took my younger brother with him. He left me in New York, on my own, at 15 years old.
NC: What did you do?
DT: I lived in the streets for 3 months. And then I was on my way to…things got really strange at that time. I was living in the park, in Central Park, in open places, and I ran into some people. They were called The Children of God which was kind of a Christian cult. And because I was a guitar player – I didn’t own a guitar – and they would just play guitar out in the park, that kind of thing, and I gravitated towards them. And they offered to take me upstate New York with them to one of their compounds. So I lived with them for a little while. And I really wasn’t into the Jesus-freaks thing, so they asked me to leave. So I was leaving, I was actually heading out to California. I was gonna hitchhike from New York to California. And as I hitchhiked from upstate New York back down to Manhattan, I was quite tired, so the only phone number I had was the lady who we stayed with in Harlem. So I called her and asked her if I could stay with her for a night and move on the next day. And she told me that my sister had been looking for me and the police and a whole bunch of other people.
NC: And then you connected with your sister?
DT: I lived with my sister for a couple of months. Then I stayed with an aunt and uncle in Queens for a little while and they had children of their own and foster children. So I ended up in a kids home called Mission of the Immaculate Virgin in Staten Island.
NC: This is an amazing story of survival! So you ended up in Staten Island.
DT: Yeah. So I ended up there in 1972. I graduated from high school in 1974. I went to Staten Island Community College in 1975. So I was actually in the kids home for 3 years. In 1975 I was listening to a radio show. The host was a guy named Les Davis. It was WRVR as I recall and Les Davis was the host, and this particular night he was featuring Bill Watrous, the great trombone player.
NC: Your first recording was with Watrous.
DT: That was my very first recording. How that came about was Bill was giving a live interview on the radio and somebody named Joe Beck, a guitar player, was the guitar player in his band, but Joe wasn’t making the dates. So Wes Davis says, “if anybody would like to speak with Bill Watrous, our lines are open and call at this number.” So I kust picked up the phone and called and Bill answered the phone and I got to talk to him, and he said his band was playing down at the Village Gate or the Village Vanguard – I don’t remember which one. And he invited me down and I met him. He seemed to like me and he asked me to come do an audition for his group. I was nineteen at the time. I was the only Black player in the band. I ended up in the band and like 2 weeks later we were in the studio with John Hammond, Sr.
NC: That was for Columbia?
DT: Yeah, the album was called Tiger of San Pedro.
NC: How did you develop guitar chops to be able to take a gig like that?
DT: Well, I started to play the guitar in ’64. That’s when the Beatles came in. I was big fan at the time, was playing guitar and that sort of thing. But all throughout high school I played in the jazz bands in high school. I was basically self-taught until I reached Staten Island and my last year of high school, I was studying classical guitar first with some guy named Leonard Taratola. But I asked him who his teacher was. He said one of his teachers was a guy named Bolatine (sp.?) and another teacher he said was a man named Chuck Wayne. And Chuck Wayne happened to live in a place called Pleasant Plains in Staten Island which was quite close to where I was living in the home. So I just went to the director of the home and said, “I’d like to study guitar with Chuck Wayne.” So they paid for it and I studied with Chuck for a while. He was my first real teacher. After that I studied with Pat Martino, Ted Dunbar as well, up in a place called…it was some kind of school up in Harlem that they were running. I’m trying to think of this great tenor player who was teaching there.
NC: Jimmy Heath?
DT: Well, the Heath brothers were there. Percy was there. What was the drummer’s name? The Heath Brothers drummer. There were 3 Heath brothers.
NC: Tootie Heath, Albert.
DT: Albert, that’s what they called him. So they were all teaching up in this Jazzmobile or jazz workshop up in Harlem. And I took a couple of lessons from Ted Dunbar.
NC: Did they know who you were – the connection to Lucky?
DT: Not really because I didn’t…I never really…I think I’ve used my father’s name like 3 times in my entire life to get a gig. Because I really wanted to do things on my own.
NC: Are you familiar with his music? Have you gone back and listened to his recordings.
DT: I know all of his music.
NC” How would you describe yourself stylistically? You studied with straight ahead guitarists. Is that the type of music you’re into?
DT: No, I was really, basically a Hendrix disciple. My 3 big heroes were Jimmy Hendrix, John McLaughlin and Pat Martino. I met Pat in ’76. He was a really big hero of mine. I met McLaughlin the same year. And so I started working with…he had a big band called the Mahavishnu Orchestra and at this time Michael Tilson Thomas was the conductor and the arranger for his album called Apocalypse. And so I met the drummer whose name is Narada Michael Walden and I began a friendship with Narada and I actually lived with Narada for a little while. And so I ended up doing sessions for Jeff Beck and people like that. But I’m primarily a rock guitar player that plays jazz, a jazz guitar player that really is a rock and roll player.
NC: After you were basically abandoned by your father in New York City, can I assume that you no longer had any kind of relationship with your father?
DT: I only saw my father once after that. 1971 was the last time I saw him. But after he had his illness and so forth, I was able to track him down through Dizzy Gillespie who’s my godfather. And a man I was working with at the time named John Lee…
NC: The bass player who lives in South Orange, Hew Jersey?
DT: I started playing with…well, a whole lot of things happened in between. After I left Watrous’s band I started playing with Robin Kenyatta. I played with Kenyatta for about 8 months or so and the percussionist from Robin Kenyatta’s band was also playing with Gato Barbieri, so I ended up playing with Gato for a while. And I met John Lee because he subbed one night on the Kenyatta gig and so I ended up doing 2 or 3 records with John Lee and Gerry Brown. That’s up to about 1979. Then I did a few [?] with a guy named Richard T. Bear and a lady named Ruth Copeland and Genya Ravan from Ten Wheel Drive.
NC: How did you happen to end up in Georgia?
DT: After 19 years of being in Chicago – very cold in Chicago. My wife actually had fallen on some ice one winter…
NC: How did you end up in Chicago?
DT: I ended up in Chicago because I was working, first in’79 I was working with Richard Bear and John Lee called me up one day and asked me if I had ever heard of this guy Peter Tosh, and I said no. And he said well, they need a guitar player and they’re holding auditions. So I went down and I auditioned for Peter Tosh. He was on Rolling Stone Records at the time and I joined Peter Tosh’s band. I stayed with him ’79 and ’80. In late ’80, I joined another group called Black Uhuru and so I began to tour with Black Uhuru 1980 and ’81 and in ’81 we just happened to go through Chicago and we played a place called Park West and that’s where I met my wife. And so I ended up moving to Chicago.
NC: So you were there for almost 20 years.
DT: Just about 20 years.
NC: So that comes up to about 2000.
DT: About 2001. And for the 19 years I was in Chicago I worked with various people like Koko Taylor, Buddy Miles, Valerie Wellington, Sugar Blue, the whole Chicago blues scene. And around ’86 I believe, I started teaching at Columbia College. The musical director there at the time was a man named William Russo. I called him Bill.
NC: Of course, famous guy who arranged for Stan Kenton.
DT: Yeah, from Stan Kenton. So I ended up staying there for 7 years teaching, playing with Lee Konitz at the Chicago Jazz Festival and that kind of thing.
NC: So you would do this and not ever mention the fact that you were Lucky Thompson’s son.
DT: No. Well, my father brought us up to believe that we should stand on our own feet, and that kind of thing. I think I used his name 3 times in the entire…
NC: Is it true that your father was blacklisted because of a dispute with Louis Armstrong or Louis Armstrong’s manager over who was going to get off an airplane first?
DT: It’s the truth!
NC: So Joe Glazer actually prevented your father from working.
DT: Right. What happened was my father had the ultimate respect for Louis Armstrong. He called him Mr. Armstrong. He never even referred to him as Louie. And they were trying to get off the plane…
NC: Now this would have been 1948?
DT: Something like that. The same year he won the Esquire award. He, Dodo Marmarosa and Miles Davis won the Esquire award for an album that they had done with Charlie Parker. And Lucky was young and he was trying to get off the plane and from what I heard, Mr. Glazer said, “well no, Louis was supposed to get off the plane first.” So they had photo ops and all that. And he took offense to this.
NC: But then your father is recording with Louis in 1956, the Musical Autobiography.
DT: He had the most respect for Louis Armstrong. I mean I had to listen to all these records when I was coming up, listen to Fletcher Henderson and Jimmie Lunceford. I grew up listening to this sort of thing. He had really a tremendous amount of respect for Louis Armstrong.
NC: But Glazer must have let bygones be bygones or he wouldn’t have been on those recording sessions.
DT: Well, that’s beyond my knowledge. All I know is that he was blacklisted for a number of reasons. One, he was against the union. He was against musicians not owning their own publishing.
NC: There are a lot of similarities between your father and Gigi Gryce in that regard. Did he ever mention Gigi?
DT: Not to my recollection. I found out about him afterwards.
NC: Do you have children?
DT: I have a 24-year old son and a 16-year old daughter. I’ve been married to the same woman for 26 years. I just finished a production on an artist named Mishka who is a friend of Matthew McConaughey. So in the last 2 years I’ve become friends with Matthew and Matthew’s actually started a record label for us called J.K. Livin Records. And so the record should be released the 21st of March and 2 of the songs are going to be in his new movie called Surfer Dude.
NC: Thank you so much. I wish you the best of luck with everything
DT: Call me if you need some more information. I’m full of all these stories. I remember all these people. We lived in the same building with Dizzy Gillespie in Paris. We actually lived in the same hotel with John Coltrane for a while. And most of my father’s contemporaries were my friends because we didn’t really hang out with children. So people like Roland Kirk and Oliver Nelson, these sort of people.
NC: Did your dad get along well with these people because I’ve heard stories that he could wa somewhat arrogant, could be rude? Did you ever get a hint of that? It was related to his desire for perfection.
DT: For the most part, Lucky was a gentleman, an incredibly clean, sophisticated man. He didn’t tolerate things like lateness. He couldn’t stand musicians that couldn’t read. He hated musicians that used drugs and drank. And so he was kind of like Clifford Brown in a way. They called them milkheads.
NC: Again, coming back to Gigi, that was exactly his scene. He stood out in that period from everybody because he didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke. And with the publishing companies and bucking the system, I keep seeing these parallels between the two.
DT: I’m sure there was a lot to the parallels. I’m saying that Lucky didn’t like injustice of any kind. And he would fight for the rights of just simple people. And he probably rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, like I do. One of my teachers calls it righteous indignation. I like the term. You become slightly indignant when you’re in the right. But even when you’re right sometimes you’re wrong. He had his problems. I think he suffered greatly from guilt about my mother’s passing. He tried to do the best he could as a father, trying to be a father and mother to 2 young boys.
NC: Were there any legal proceedings taken against him regarding the circumstances surrounding your mother’s death?
DT: No. The legal proceedings had to do with leaving me at 15 years old at Port Authority. He left me at Port Authority in Manhattan. My relatives on my mother’s side were trying to get my brother back from him.
NC: Following his career, your father was long gone by 1977, as far as being a musician is concerned. Was he actually working after 1974, after Dartmouth?
DT: I don’t know.
NC: But the dementia hadn’t taken over yet.
DT: I think part of the dementia was that he got, somewhere along the line, he got accosted by police and he was hit upside the head. And after that his dementia became severe. The same thing happened to Bud Powell. They ended up hitting him upside the head and Bud was never right after that. So the same thing happened with Lucky.
NC: Thank you very much. This has been very helpful and I hope we’ll talk again.
DT: If I can be of assistance, please let me know.
A follow-up telephone interview of Daryl Thompson was conducted on February 13, 2008 but not recorded. Here are some edited highlights from notes taken by Noal Cohen:
- Lucky Thompson’s father, Levi Thompson, was born July 4, 1901 and died in 1984 at age 83.
- Lucky Thompson had a brother Edward and a sister Ethell who were both younger and predeceased him.
- Lucky Thompson’s mother died shortly after the move to Detroit from Columbia, SC.
- Lucky Thompson’s son Kim was 2 years old when his mother (Thelma Thompson) died. Kim, himself, died on November 14, 1977, in police custody, after having been arrested while in possession of marijuana.
- Lucky Thompson learned to play saxophone by listening. His father could not afford a sax. At Cass Tech, Charlie Brown was the instrument teacher. Lucky carved keys on a broom to learn fingering long before he learned how to blow. He was 17 when he first got a sax and was playing professionally 6 months later.
- Lucky Thompson was a great admirer of Don Byas, Lester Young and Ben Webster.
- In addition to being a singer, Thelma Thompson was an artist (painter). She suffered from depression.
- Lucky Thompson wouldn’t tolerate drugs, alcohol, smoking, even coffee which he wouldn’t permit in the house.
- Daryl could offer no date or location regarding the alleged beating of his father by police.